Farmer wins battle against government after losing 760 cattle in outbreak
The provincial and national agriculture departments vow to fight back after public protector’s ruling
Free State farmer Ronel Behrens has won a nine-year battle with the provincial and national agricultural departments after she lost 760 cattle in an outbreak on her farm in 2010.
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane ruled on March 28 that Behren’s dairy farm, which was affected by Brucellosis disease, should be compensated within 60 days of her ruling.
In her report, Investigations into the Allegations of Maladministration by the Free State Agriculture and DAFF in the Handling of its Outbreak of the Brucellosis Disease, Mkhwebane says Behrens lost R26.9m.
But both the departments have vowed to challenge her ruling, telling Times Select they were seeking legal advice.
Behrens lost her cattle after they were infected with Brucellosis despite the animals being vaccinated with a vaccine called RB51, which was registered with the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff).
The 2010 outbreak led to Behrens losing her prized dairy cattle.
She took the matter up with the Free State government for compensation and later reported it to the public protector.
In her report, Mkhwebane says the complainant alleges provincial state veterinarian Dr Louis van Rooyen visited the farm during the outbreak and did not implement or suggest any control measures, such as prescribing an alternative vaccine for Brucellosis that was available on the market.
In the report, Behrens tells the investigators, there were 124 infected animals in 2010 when the outbreak occurred and was confirmed on the farm.
“In 2011, Dr Petra Kitshoff replaced Dr Van Rooyen as state veterinarian and took control over the farm,” she says in the report.
Behrens has told the public protector another vaccine was obtained in that same year in 2011 and injected into the noses of the cattle.
When the outbreak started she had 880 cows, including heifers.
Between 2010 and 2015, the farm lost 760 cows, which either died or were slaughtered because they tested positive for the disease.
“Had the Free State department of agriculture acted or intervened earlier and implemented control measures immediately, they could have saved the bulk of the herd. Only 120 cattle were left from the original 880 cattle,” she said.
The outbreak caused huge losses, including more than R23m in the reduction of milk production, and the losses from the slaughter of the animals were more than R3.8m.
“The total loss was R26,906,082.00,” says Mkhwebane.
The public protector says this has been a long journey for the complainant.
“She has been in hospital twice. The herd has been inherited from her father and has a huge sentimental value for her. The department has failed to implement control measures in the initial stages of the outbreak and Dr Van Rooyen failed to report and the director of animal health failed to intervene.”
Mkhwebane said a compensation offer must be made to the complainant within three months. It should be “a consolatory payment for the inconvenience, distress and frustration suffered by the complainant”.
“The director-general must pay the amount agreed by the parties within 60 days,” says Mkhwebane.
Daff said it had sought legal guidance and would be filing for a review. “Prior to filing, the department will be requesting a meeting with the public protector to discuss some of her findings and her remedial actions.”
The Free State agriculture department’s spokeswoman, Zimasa Leputla, said: “The department is in a process of filing an application to review the public protector’s report. We can confirm that we are challenging her report on grounds of legality. We have engaged with her office but cannot disclose details of those discussions at this stage.”
The public protector said this was news to her.“The public protector is not aware of any plans by the department to challenge her findings in that matter. There has not been any communication between the public protector and both the national and provincial departments, other than the letters that was attached to the copies of the report on the day it was published,” said spokesperson Oupa Segalwe.“The public protector is in the process of writing to the departments to follow up on progress with regard to the implementation of remedial action.”